Choosing Your Horse Bedding

Apr 06, 2012 Comments Off by
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Horse Bedding Picks for Equine Health


Good flooring and bedding materials can be a factor in the over all health of the animals that spend a measure of time in their stalls. But it is also up to the horse owner’s personal preferences and style.


Flooring Material Choice

The first decision to make on any flooring material is if you want it porous or impervious to wetness. A porous floor (lets the liquid through)is one that should have a base which drains. Sand or gravel aids in the movement of liquid into the ground below.

An imperious or non porous floor (doesn’t let the liquid through) is one that should slope. Liquid should drain away from the stall.

However, either way, for the ease of cleaning, comfort of your equine partner, and general cleanliness of the stall, horse bedding of some form should be used to absorb the excess water and urine so actual liquid runoff is minimal unless intentional like when you are cleaning the area.


A good stall floor

A good stall floor is important to a horse’s well being. However, there is no one ideal flooring material. Material selection generally applies to what we have been given to work with and is already in place in the barn, and what with this flooring, what disadvantage we are then needing to minimize.


Characteristics of the ideal floor are –

• Easy on the legs by offering some give to decrease the horses tendon and foot strain

• Dry

• Non odor retentive

• Provides traction

• Is durable and resists damage

• Low maintenance

• Easy to clean

• Affordability


What are the characteristics of your stall floor –

There are other stall flooring materials such as sand and a sand and rock mix, however, these types of materials bring with them further complications (such as sand colic) which leave them off of the list.

We understand that some people also use asphalt. We have never seen a barn done with asphalt and as such are not including this on the table.


Top Soil or Dirt or Clay floors –

At first glance, these types of horse bedding materials probably seem to be one of the most common and arguably natural footing in a horse stall. It can absorb liquids, is easy on the legs, inexpensive compared to others and a non slip substance providing a firm footing unless excessively wet.

However, it’s porosity can also retain dampness and odor, be difficult to keep clean, have the need to be leveled often, and retain moisture and remain undesirably damp and cold or shift under use.

Topsoil and dirt: Leg eaze = “good”
Absorption of wetness = “good”
Retention of Odor = “medium”
Non slippery surface = “good”
Durability = “poor”
Cleaning = “poor”
Low maintenance = “poor”

Clay: Leg eaze = “good”
Absorption of wetness = “medium”
Retention of Odor = “medium”
Non slippery surface = “good”
Durability = “poor”
Cleaning = “poor”
Low maintenance = “medium”


Concrete floors

Concrete is a durable choice for horse bedding that offers a huge advantage during clean out and disinfection over the other types of floor coverings. A broom finished surface provides traction without getting in the way of the cleaning fork, but should be covered with a generous layer of horse bedding.

Concrete is a very durable surface but hard on a horses legs if he is to stand in a stall for long periods in a day. Rubber mats and other horse bedding provides a solution to these flooring disadvantages, as well as some floor warmth and encouragement of the animal to lie down.

Concrete: Leg eaze = “poor”
Absorption of wetness = “poor”
Retention of Odor = “good”
Non slippery surface = “medium”
Durability = “good”
Cleaning = “good”
Low maintenance = “good”


Wood Floors

Wood was the material of yesteryear. Because of its high cost it is used less often than some of the other preceding materials. However, wood is considered easy on the legs, warm to lie upon, generally good traction, and durable.

Along with its expense however, it is also slippery when wet, and retains odors as it is almost impossible to clean and disinfect.

Wood: Leg eaze = “good”
Absorption of wetness = “medium”
Retention of Odor = “poor”
Non slippery surface = “poor”
Durability = “good”
Cleaning = “medium”
Low maintenance = “good”


Some stall footing fixes

For most of us, the flooring choices come with the place we live. When we bought this farm, the barn floor was strictly concrete and as such we have had to work with the disadvantages that it presents.

We have observed different facilities, wood and dirt, with or without additional flooring such as mats, and have to say that concrete is for us the personal choice.


Rubber Mats

There are so many choices of horse mats with the their own advantages and disadvantages. Seller information is biased to their brand and not quantifiable to research that we have found.


Hardness, Softness, or Expensive, Inexpensive.., we will share the research that I have been able to find.

• Spend a little bit extra if it means durability. Mats will probably pay for themselves in bedding and labor savings, so don’t complicate things by getting mats you can put your fork through or the glue will break down and cause the rubber in your mat to crack.

• Look for mats that are grooved on the bottom. A flat bottom mat will be prone to curling and tend not to flex. A mat that loses its shape by shrinking or curling will cause your mat to break down prematurely and will again become a problem with the cleaning form.

• What about a too soft mat? Yes it can feel good. But it can also cause torsion injuries to pasterns, knees and stifles. What about a too hard mat? Well, it may last for years, but it dangerously slippery. Testing has shown that a mat with a 60 durometer is the best for equine use.


Solid rubber mats are generally used over another horse bedding solution. They are installed on top of an even compact surface and cover the entire area of the stall. Mats run at a range of thicknesses and should be textured to omit slippage.

Mats provide good footing and generally a long life. They are easy to clean and low maintenance if installed well. We have been told that some mats can retain odors. They are generally thought to be expensive, however, spending on one end probably saves at the other.

Grid mats are generally rubber or plastic with an open grid like surface which allows fluid to flow through. It is considered to be a ground stabilizer. It is filled and topped with a porous stall material. These mats can be expensive however, there are newer types all the time.

So what is a good mat?

Its one that cuts stall cleaning and bedding costs in half. It reduces airborne particles, is guaranteed not to shrink or curl, is durable and won’t break down over time.

The mat is not as heavy as the Empire State building and can be installed by a single person. It is grooved on the bottom and has a skid resistant surface on the top. It is not too hard nor too soft.

And once installed, a good mat stays in place and refuses to shift.


Wood flake bedding 

Wood flake horse bedding consumption and disposal.

With the ever decline of the local milling industry we have been on the hunt for a wood shavings and horse bedding supplier which provides a good product, can supply product year round and still makes sense financially when running this farm. We have been looking for quality, consistency and reliability.

With the decline of the mills the cost of horse bedding has increased exponentially if you can even find it. And when you do find it the quality is abysmal.

Some regard the high price of oil to be the cause and others the decline of the new real estate market, but what ever the reason, it is obvious that finding a new source or type of horse bedding is imminent.


What makes for good stall bedding?

Horse bedding should soak up the urine and moisture from manure, it should encourage a horse to lie down, it should reduce stress on your equines feet and legs.

Bedding should not add to the costs of disposal, and should aid in good manure management and compost efficiently.


• How available is the bedding material
• What is the cost
• How do I get it.., that is what is it’s level of convenience
• Does it effectively soak up moisture
• Dustiness
• Allergic reactions
• How it is handled
• What happens if it is eaten
• What is its ease of disposal
• Flammability
• How much space does it take to store
• Does it aid in good manure management and
• Does it compost efficiently
• And of course, does the horse like it!!


Other bedding materials

Wood products

Wood products are used by most equine folks in these parts. However, to find shavings is almost a pipe dream, and the fine sawdust that is available breaks down quickly and is dusty which produces concerns with possible respiratory problems.

We have found a mixture of 80% shavings and 20% sawdust to be a easy to handle and keep these horse stalls picked clean.

Recently we read that wood product can dry a horse’s hooves to a point of needing supplements. However, we have never personally experienced this.

It appears that pine shavings are the desirable for wood horse bedding because they are absorptive, less dusty than others and burn slower than other products in the case of a barn fire.



Shredded paper is a bedding material closely related to wood, that some of us have tried with our cats but have never added to our horses footing. This is a relatively new concept and perhaps not well used in equine circles. We don’t know. However, we wonder if horses eat it? What about the ink? Anyone?


Corn cobs and stalks

Crushed or ground corn cobs and stalks are also used for horse bedding. Again, we have no experience with this type of product.



Did you know?  Some hard wood products can cause founder.







Do horses  care?

Horses may not be as picky as humans when it comes to the type of horse bedding used.

In a study conducted by L. Hunter and K. A. Houpt, ponies were observed to see if they preferred bedding over a concrete floor and if they preferred straw over wood shavings.

Interestingly, the ponies appeared to prefer the use of horse bedding, although they differed on the type of horse bedding preferred.



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